Anglo-Irish Agreement On Northern Ireland Comes Into Force
LONDON (AP) _ The Anglo-Irish agreement designed to ease religious strife in Northern Ireland went into effect today, giving the Irish Republic a forum for representing the interests of the British province’s Roman Catholic minority.
The London Times reported today that the forum, an Anglo-Irish conference based in the British province’s capital, Belfast, will hold its inaugural meeting next week and will discuss better cooperation on security.
The newspaper said the agenda also will include two proposals from Dublin: improving relations between Northern Ireland’s security forces and its Catholic inhabitants, and the creation of courts with judges from both the province and the Irish Republic jointly hearing cases.
No official announcement has been made about the conference’s first meeting, to be headed by Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Barry and Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Tom King.
The accord on Northern Ireland, signed Nov. 15 by Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher of Britain and Garret FitzGerald of Ireland, took effect when the two governments exchanged official notes informing each other that their parliaments had approved the accord.
The exchange took place today at a meeting in Dublin between Barry and the British ambassador, Sir Alan Goodison.
The Irish Senate voted in favor Thursday and the lower house of the Irish Parliament approved it last week. The British House of Commons approved it Wednesday.
The agreement gives Ireland a formal consultative role in running Northern Ireland, through establishment of the Anglo-Irish conference, in exchange for recognizing long-term British sovereignty there.
Once entirely under British rule, Ireland was partitioned in 1921 into the independent Irish Republic and the British province of Northern Ireland.
The Irish Republic, where 95 percent of the population is Catholic, claims in its constitution that the whole island is rightfully its national territory.
But Protestants, who generally prefer continued British rule, outnumber Catholics 2-to-1 in the province.
The Irish Republic agreed in the accord that Ireland cannot be united unless a majority of the British province’s residents agree.
Catholic hardliners called it a sell-out to the British, while Protestant leaders in the province expressed fears it represented the beginning of a process to eventually hand the province over to the Irish Republic.
Two of the province’s 15 Protestant Unionist legislators in the 650-seat British House of Commons resigned Wednesday after the body approved the accord. Other Unionist legislators have pledged to quit before Jan. 1.
The Unionists, so called because they demand the perpetual union of Northern Ireland and Britain, want to force special elections early next year they say would serve as a Protestant referendum on the agreement.
The mainly Catholic Irish Republican Army, meanwhile, has said the agreement will not affect its guerrilla war to drive the British from Northern Ireland and unite the province with the Irish Republic under a leftist government.